This year’s focal point of the 13th Istanbul Biennial is the “notion of the public domain as a political forum”. Its motto seems to be more topical than ever. Protesters disturbed a performance in the Istanbul Biennial’s side programme …
The 13th Istanbul Biennial will be held between September 14 and November 10, 2013, with Fulya Erdemci as the curator and Bige Örer as the director. This year’s conceptual framework takes its name from one of poet Lale Müldür’s books: “Mom, am I barbarian?” The focal point of the biennial – which is sponsored by Koç Holding, one of the biggest holdings of the country – will be the notion of the public domain as a political forum. (İstanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) had a sponsorship agreement with Koç Holding to support five editions of the Istanbul Biennial over ten years, from 2006 through 2016.) The fact that a biennial with the aim to bring urban transformation policies to the table is being sponsored by Koç Holding became a topic of discussion once the conceptual framework was revealed.
On May 10, artists, who are members of Public Resistance Platform, protested during an artists’ performance in the framework of the biennial side program “Public Capital”. The protesters laid silently in front of the speaker’s stage, every five minutes. They protested against the influential Koç Holding, the sponsor of the biennial, and the İKSV, which is funded by Eczacıbaşı Holding.
Protestors claimed that Koç and Eczacıbaşı themselves are the main protagonists in the urban transformation of Istanbul. The protesters wore T-shirts with the names of Istanbul’s neighborhoods and historical sites where “urban transformation” is happening, such as Taksim/Gezi Park, Taksim/Emek Cinema, and Maltepe/Başıbüyük. Each protester who laid down on the floor covered themselves with a sheet saying Koç, Sabancı, Eczacıbaşı, Ağaoğlu, Zorlu, or Çalık Holding along with the İKSV logo. Those were not the first protests against Koç Holding’s sponsorship. At 11th (2009) and 12th (2011) Biennials were also protests by independent artists and activists.
Things became tenser
Officials lifted the protestors from the floor and took them outside. At the same time, artist/protester Niyazi Selçuk was filming biennial chief curator Fulya Erdemci and things became tenser. Fulya Erdemci claims that her personal rights had been violated. Protester and curator alike pressed charges against one another and launched legal actions. The statement on İKSV’s official website was as follows (mutatis mutandis): “The actions of the protestors […] were questioning the relationship of art and capital. That can be discussed and considered in the framework of non-violence or non- vandalism. However, can Niyazi Selçuk’s (artist) persistent filming of Fulya Erdemci (biennial’s curator) for over an hour be regarded as a protest or activism? If this is to be regarded as a protest method, what is the aim of this protest? Is it possible to bring a political issue to the agenda through psychological violence, harassment and violation of individual rights?” On 11th of May, the program was going on with talks and Fulya Erdemci made a small speech. She said that she welcomes the protesters’ repeated use of the biennial as a public platform but thinks the protests should not reach up to vandalism. No protesters showed up.
The Public Resistance Platform answered on their Facebook page: “Capital speaks through governments and governments speak through capital. The biennial, which claims to be independent yet is being funded by the capital, threw out the artists with a point of view that is different from theirs, and then aimed to censor artists Niyazi Selçuk and Mihriban Demircan by trying to erase their video footage and tried to intimidate them with detainment, threats, harassments and insults.”
Weeks later – as everybody knows – protests against the urban transformation projects of the AKP government began in Gezi Park, a small park in central Istanbul. After Turkish authorities responded with shocking violence, tear gas, and arrests, thousands gathered at the park against AKP and the police. Now the main focus was not only the urban transformation policies but also police violence against unarmed civilians and Prime Minister Erdogan’s oppressive rulership. The protests expanded to the whole country and also reached the Venice Biennale. Protesters made a solidarity rally in Venice during the Venice Biennale, which included Turkish pavilion artist Ali Kazma, Turkish pavilion curator Emre Baykal, Witte de With director Defne Ayas, AICA Turkey President Osman Erden, and many others. Istanbul Biennial curator Fulya Erdemci was also among the supporters.
Please check also a report in Artforum!